Woods keeps his lead, but field moves closer at Hazeltine

Tiger Woods's lone highlight came at No. 14 when he bladed a sand wedge in for birdie.
Fred Vuich/SI

CHASKA, Minn. - Maybe it's not over, after all.

With Tiger Woods holding a four-shot lead halfway through the 91st PGA Championship, the only way the tournament figured to remain suspenseful was if he got stuck in neutral while the chase pack made a big move at Hazeltine National Golf Club Saturday.

That seemed unlikely, given that Woods was eight of eight when he led a major through 36 holes, and that he was 39 under par for his last 10 competitive rounds. But golf is still golf, and Tiger is still human (we think).

 

 

Woods fought through a rare off day on Saturday and posted a 71 to get to eight under for the tournament. Going into the final round, his cushion is just two shots after Y.E. Yang shot 67 and Padraig Harrington carded a 69 to get to six under.

"I'm trying not to smile," Harrington said from the media tent dais, where he was told that Woods had missed his birdie putt on 18. "I'm only kidding. What was the question?"

Last year, Harrington was tied for fourth place, three shots behind leader Ben Curtis, through 54 holes of the PGA Championship before outdueling playing partner Sergio Garcia for the win.

It is Yang, however, who is slated to join Woods in the final pairing Sunday because the South Korean posted his score before Harrington.

"The narrower the gap, the better," Harrington said of the day's result. "If I have to take four shots over two days, and I've taken two the first day, I suppose we're halfway there. Obviously to get a win, you've got to beat him by three tomorrow; that's a tall order."

Woods is 14 of 14 in closing out a major when he holds the 54-hole lead.

Lucas Glover (71) and Henrik Stenson (68) are four shots back at four under.

"It thought it was going to be playing a little more difficult today, but it wasn't," Woods said. "They gave us a lot of room on a lot of these pins, six and seven even from the side, so you can be fairly aggressive. I felt like with my lead, I erred on the side of caution most of the time. If I did have a good look at it, a good number at it, I took aim right at it. Otherwise I was just dumping the ball on the green and two-putting."

When Woods birdied the 431-yard, par-4 second hole to get to eight under par, he enjoyed a five-stroke lead over the chase pack. It seemed like a fait accompli. But then something strange happened: Woods made a rare three-putt bogey at the par-3 fourth, then stopped making birdies while his pursuers began to catch up.

Woods parred his next nine holes until a dramatic birdie on the 14th, a drivable par 4. His tee shot trickled over the back of the green, and his eagle chip was too hard, settling 15 feet past the hole on the collar. Unable to get a putter on the ball, he purposely bladed a wedge and knocked it in for birdie. He unleashed a trademark fist pump that had been bottled for more than two hours. But that was his last highlight, and he parred in for 71.

Yang, winner of the Honda Classic earlier this year, put together what Woods called, "just a great round."

Stenson played mistake-free golf after a bogey at the first.

"I can hopefully be up there and be within three when we turn into the back nine," Stenson said. "It's time to hopefully make a few good putts and see what happens."

Ernie Els, who has struggled on the greens all year, suddenly began pouring in putts. He chipped in for birdie on the 518-yard, par-4 12th hole, and birdied the par-5 15th to get to six under, just a shot behind Woods. Alas, the big South African bogeyed his final three holes to fall back to three under. He is tied with diminutive Dane Soren Kjeldsen (70).

Steve Flesch was the first player to prove there were birdies for the taking Saturday. Starting his round at three over par, he made seven of them, plus two bogeys and a double, to card a 69 and get back to even for the tournament.

"You could make some birdies," said Phil Mickelson, who didn't make many in shooting 76 and falling to eight over.

"I didn't hit the ball very well today, either," he said. "I didn't make very many putts, but it felt a little better. And I feel like after some sessions last night, I feel like I'm getting on the right track at least and hopefully I'll get it figured out here over the next week. I'll have a week off to get ready before the Barclays."

On a warm, breezy day that threatened to bring rain but for the most part spat out only a few drops, the course yielded 24 under-par rounds, compared to 20 on Friday and 21 on Thursday.

Harrington and Stenson are scheduled to play together in the second-to-last pairing at 2:36 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. Woods and Yang will go at 2:45. Rain pounded the media tent as Woods sat for his post-round interview, and Sunday's forecast calls for "a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly during the morning."

"Hopefully we can get it in, if it is bad," Woods said.

Golf fans are hoping for more than that.

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